Plans to invest 300 million pounds ($364 million) in scientific infrastructure, extend poststudy work visas for Ph.D. graduates and establish an Office for Talent to attract top international researchers have been unveiled as part of a research “road map” designed to “cement the U.K. as a science superpower.”
Under wide-ranging plans announced by the business secretary, Alok Sharma, on July 1, the government will also set up a new Innovation Expert Group to review how it supports research from the idea stage through to product development, and has pledged to make up “any funding shortfalls” if Britain fails to strike a deal with the European Union on participating in the Horizon Europe framework program.
The unveiling of the Research and Development Road Map comes a day after a major speech by Boris Johnson in which he expressed his ambition to turn Britain into a “science superpower” and to “end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion-dollar American company or a Chinese company.”
Under the new road map, £300 million will be brought forward to upgrade scientific infrastructure in research institutes and universities as part of a World Class Labs funding scheme. That is on top of the extra £280 million ($340 million), announced over the weekend, that will be provided to universities to allow them to continue research during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a loan scheme to cover 80 percent of losses from a decline in international student fee income.
The government will also create an Office for Talent to make it easier for top global science, research and innovation talent to come to Britain.
Based in 10 Downing Street with delivery teams across government departments, it will aim to help attract scientific talent to the U.K., from promising young researchers to world leaders in their fields.
It will begin by reviewing the effectiveness of the current immigration rules and will aim to ensure excellent customer service across the immigration system, so that it is simple, easy and quick, the government said.
The global talent plan that will fast-track visa applications from foreign researchers, announced in February, will also be opened up to E.U. citizens. This program will allow highly skilled scientists and researchers to come to Britain without needing a job offer, the government added.
In addition, the government announced that it will create a new graduate talent route, in which international students who complete a Ph.D. from summer 2021 can stay in Britain for three years after study to live and work. At present, doctoral graduates may extend their visas for only 12 months.
The move follows the announcement in September 2019 that international students starting an undergraduate or master’s degree in 2020-21 would be eligible for two-year poststudy work visa, reversing the 2012 decision to scrap this route.
The extension of the graduate route was hailed by Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, as a “bold policy move which will increase the U.K.’s competitive edge in the global competition for talented research students.”
Other improvements include extending the window in which prospective students can make visa applications, removing study time limits at the postgraduate level and allowing all students to switch to any other type of visa from within Britain.
Existing students and those who start their courses this autumn will benefit from these changes once they have been introduced, the government said.
Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, welcomed the immigration rule changes, saying they “will help make the U.K. more attractive to the global student population, who bring significant social, cultural and economic benefits to all regions of the country.”
The road map also reiterated the government’s wish to participate in Horizon Europe, which begins in 2021, providing that a “fair and balanced” deal can be struck. If this does not happen, the government said that it “will commit to meeting any funding shortfalls and putting in place alternative schemes to support vital U.K. research.”
Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said that “participation in E.U. research programs has benefited everyone,” adding that “it is good to see the government’s renewed commitment to continuing that fruitful association.”
Commenting on the new road map, Sharma said it would help the country to “cement Britain’s reputation as a global science superpower.”
“The R&D road map sets out our plan to attract global talent, cut unnecessary red tape and ensure our best minds get the support they need to solve the biggest challenges of our time,” said Sharma.